Culture Wars

The feature image is a crochet rug saying “Freedom” in Arabic.

I woke up groggy and sore and crampy today. An anticipated day of writing was wrung out by pain and codeine. As I stared bleary eyed and uncomprehending at my own writing, being incapable of serious thought, I splayed myself instead across the interwebs, reading today’s news.

and it was awful.

Yesterday, 3 psycho gunmen walked into a newsroom in northern Paris and opened fire, killing 12 people, including an Arab cop Ahmed Merabet. The main deaths were the targets; cartoonists for the ribald French magazine “Charlie Hebdo” – which translates as “the weekly charlie”.

What I’m writing now in my pained and medicated state is not a definitive manifesto, just a memento of responses and my own confused reaction, which kind of consist of ‘yays’ and ‘nays’, signified by the ‘like’ and ‘share’ functions on my facebook account.

So the first comment came from a prominent Australian public intellectual who condemned the gunmen for inciting the inflammatory racism of Marie Le Pen and her vicious ilk in France. and this I agreed with….

and then, as my newsfeed filled with the hashtag ‘jesuis charlie” I started to feel a bit ick, and posted this as my status update:

“Charlie Hebdo is a fairly bland, right wing, sexist and homophobic publication. The absolute tragedy of the rabid shooting spree of their cartoonists draws the interracial conflict in France in high relief. Crazy gun toting Muslim fascists will fuel further racist attacks by crazy Catholic fascists who hold too much power already. Je ne suis pas Charlie , je suis plutot le niquabitch, le transpedegouine, the silent, invisible and ignored margins of this misogynist rehash of the Crusades.”

and then I watched the crossfire conversation thread as various FB friends and aquaintances (everyone from pub days in Newtown to academics) weighed in…… all of my Muslim and most of asylum seeker friends were all completely silent (except for one friend who expressed public sympathy for the slain cartoonists)…. as the most likely target of any racist backlash, they are watching and waiting, silently…

And as I watched other threads unfold today, and noted my own shifting reactions, all I could really come up with was  that this is big and confusing and hard…..

My initial radical subaltern stance above reflects a few things that have been echoed in a few other articles and comments, particularly this article in  Hooded Utilitarian, which shows the blatant crudity of many of the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo: They are crude and offensive, and rely on the prosaic ‘geezer’ humour familiar to Pickering in Australia.

Another culture wars type blog site, also notes the legitimate suspicion of attempts by “the west” or world leaders to claim the issue as a starkly drawn issue of “free Speech”. And part of my own rage at the official global reaction to the atrocity, is that Charlie Hebdo reminds me of the Tele Mirror/Herald Sun (insert horrid Murdoch tabloid). From my times in France, it always reminded me of an illustrated version of Le Figaro, and not as witty or clever as Le Canard Enchainee. And the Bolt Affair, activated my bullshit radar to  the defense of “free speech ” being used as a cover for defending inflammatory hate speech funded by crazy bigotted billionaires. The assymetry of particular forms of ‘free speech’ and ‘satire’ are illustrated in this cartoon.

So I ranted with relief at the joys of Section 18C of Australia’s Racial discrimination Act still remaining in-tact, so that crudely racist, hateful cartoons cannot be published and produced in the mass media domain across the incredibly limited and syndicated mainstream press outlets that Australia has. And I felt relief that I haven’t been back to France for almost a decade, and I shuddered at the memory of the ubiquity of soft porn billboards, of sexual and homophobic harassment, of blatant racist stereotypes in almost every film or television show, and the absence of any mosques or street signs in any language other than French, or the obligatory celebration of Catholic saints days, or the rapid and rabid vandalisation of the 50 year memorial to the hundreds of Algerians massacred in the middle of Paris in 1961. It has taken a few days for commentators to catch up and remember that the Hebdo bombing has occured in the shadow of the awful history of the French abuse of Algerians in Algeria and France.

Even the left wing “liberation” newspaper has been reciting and repeating the high-relief starkness of “free speech” vs “violence” that conservative libertarians have used to interpret this issue. (they also provide a comprehensive review of French media coverage here:). By abstracting it to a question merely of principles of a single dimension of right and wrong, they ignore the context in which this atrocity is occurring. I am not for a moment trying in any way to defend or excuse what the crazy evil gunmen did. I am not the only person who sees the bullshit monstrosity at the heart of the ahistoricism of abstracting this tragedy to a question of principles. But I am even more terrified by what governments fueled by hatred and fear will do to the majority of Muslim citizens who are peaceful, unarmed and already harassed.

France is a country so full of of bigotry and hatred, and so intensely identified with its narrative of ‘le citoyen’ as a blank cipher for a straight white upper class man from the 18th century, that it makes Australia look almost cosmopolitan by comparison. Our absurd Prime Minister’s attempt to ‘ban the burqua’ from Parliament was laughed off the table, but France has banned the Niquab. I’m relieved to not be spending any more chilly winters in a country where my flouro plushy balaclava would be reason for arrest and deportation.

And this is where things get a bit confusing. As this article in New Republic states, Islamophobia in France is reaching hysterical levels, and Charlie Hebdo’s text, lampooned many of the doyens of islamophobia, as well as crudely drawn targets based on various Islamified bogeymen; the terrorists, the people on welfare, the brown gangs of the banlieu, the constant reminders of French colonialism haunting the edges of the cities and suburbs and the economy, many of them fleeing the same forms of terrible vicious hatred that was fueled by the brutality of France in Algeria.

And this is where I wish I had more time, or a second life, where I could translate the works of one of my ex-inlaws into English. Words that I crawled through so slowly in a third language, as they burned through the page across language barriers, accompanied by memories of ‘Tata Chachette’s’ own smoke-filled insights into the ongoing toxic racism of France. I am so lucky to have been able to learn about the inside of French/Algerian relations without having to suffer from the torments that my Arab ex-family did and do. Like eating at Iftar without fasting at Ramadan, this particular version of intimate cultural tourism seems laden with hypocrisy.

So, back to the news, the incident, the horror and the backlash. As I watch a range of media sources wrangle with the issue, I’m surprised (in a good way) to see people’s equivocation. I like this article for the comparison with British politics  against the IRA under Thatcher, and I like my friend the journalist for posting her solidarity with the horribly murdered journalists, amidst sensitive musings on what diplomacy could mean.

And this op ed in Al Jazeera, is also provocative, in the same way that the reflections of my friend the radical atheist (the Hitchins of Brunswick), also make me squirm, just a bit. He compared Charlie to Viz, as both use that explosive shocking carnivalesque humour as part of a broad crude satire on everything. I can read Viz for five minutes, and then I get horribly depressed at the crazy awful misogyny. but even thinking about the cartoon involving cunnilingus with a rat still makes me guffaw. And the crude cartoon racism of Charlie Hebdo also reminds me of Le guignol’s depiction of Ossama Bin Laden, addressing all women in an Algerian accent as “espece de connasse” Conflating the taliban, with French Arabs with universal misogny is not ok, but then when my in-laws used it as a joke on each other (in a way similar to how south Asian diaspora’s imitate the accents of their parents), the connotations became detached and moved somewhere else.

So, my own libertarian knickers are in a knot, and I keep thinking back to one year ago, assembling a dossier of cartoons for an Arab speaking friend in detention, who wanted to learn cartooning. I shared him the cartoons of Mahmoud Salameh, the Syrian refugee cartoonist who depicted the Arab Spring from his cell in Villawood. And I seek and hope for cultural forms that are mobile, that can be taken and detourned and moved around by and across differing audiences and authors, particularly those who are marginalised and silenced and crushed by the fascism of war mongering maniacs in European governments, and crazy terrorist cells. Surely, it is by allowing people a voice in which they can be heard and create a more complex composition of views and ideas and approaches that we will prevent the horrible destructive hatred that took the lives of 12 innocent people yesterday.

I’m adding a list of subsequent sites and commentary and responses here.

some make me queasy, like this reversal….

others are old and useful reminders, such as this:

Here is more discussion about politics and philosophy.

Meanwhile more bombs and shootings are erupting in Paris as well as reprisals throughout France. I’m relieved when friends in Paris post that they are safe, and I just hope that the crazy violence will stop.


3 responses to “Culture Wars

  1. My libertarian knickers are often similarly in a knot. Sometimes I have to take them off altogether and see what that feels like. Then I put them on again, and they get into a knot again.

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